Ranking the Top Two-Way Forwards in the NHL

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2016

Ranking the Top Two-Way Forwards in the NHL

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    NHL teams trust two-way forwards in the most important game states. These players often play the most difficult minutes. They are prominent in later portions of the game, when coaches shorten the bench.

    The job is a difficult one: Reduce the opposition's opportunities while also uncovering offense, often from turnovers caused by these very players. In a league where one goal usually makes the difference, a forward who gives up little and delivers more is an impact player of the first order.

    Here are the top two-way forwards in the NHL this season. Players are ranked based on their possession numbers at even strength and their ability to help the team offensively while playing tough opponents.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, BehindTheNet.ca and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

8. Frans Nielsen, C, New York Islanders

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders possesses a complete skill set. He is a smart center who can play in any situation and change roles as required by his coach.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Nielsen is a fine possession player who elevates his linemates, and he gives the Islanders a reliable pivot who can check the opposition's best.

    How Much Does He Play? He plays a lot—more than two minutes a night on both special teams—ranking No. 3 overall among Islanders forwards.

7. Leo Komarov, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Leo Komarov is a rugged, intelligent two-way winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His main role for the team is to make any progress difficult for the opposition—and he succeeds at it.

    What Do The Numbers Say? His possession numbers are strong, and he ranks highly overall in that area. During what has been a trying season in Toronto, good things happen when Komarov is on the ice.

    How Much Does He Play? Komarov is No. 2 among Maple Leafs forwards in ice time, and he is getting a lot of playing time in all three disciplines. His impact on the team has been impressive, and at 29, he may be entering his prime as an NHL player.

6. Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Sean Couturier is an emerging talent for the Philadelphia Flyers. Touted as a strong two-way center during his draft year (2011), he has delivered as a checker and leads the Flyers in even-strength points per 60 minutes this season.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Couturier is among the league's best in a shutdown role, and the offense this year suggests he may be able to outscore strong opponents—a rare and valuable item. He has been particularly effective when placed with Wayne Simmonds.

    How Much Does He Play? He is gaining more playing time this season and ranks No. 3 among Flyers forwards in ice time per game. Couturier is young enough to be an impact player for a long time in a vital role for Philadelphia. 

5. Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks is one of the best two-way wingers of the century. His main strength is that he can dominate offensively or defensively, seemingly equal with or without the puck. Hossa on the backcheck is a formidable foe.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Hossa's offense this season is once again strong, as he is among the Hawks' top even-strength scorers. He plays with Jonathan Toews, and that duo spends a lot of time against the league's best opposition. 

    How Much Does He Play? The veteran plays almost 18 minutes a night in all three disciplines and has been effective with Toews over the last several seasons.

4. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins is an effective player in all areas. A lot of his two-way success comes from dogged determination on the forecheck and his willingness to push the boundaries of the rule book.

    What Do The Numbers Say? He benefits from playing with Patrice Bergeron, but both men benefit from playing with each other.

    How Much Does He Play? Marchand is a prime player for the Bruins, ranking No. 3 in terms of total ice time for the team. He is a regular on the power play and receives spot duty on the penalty kill.

3. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Jonathan Toews is an effective two-way center who has been a big part of the Chicago Blackhawks' success over the last several years.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Toews has formed an effective tandem with Marian Hossa, and their play allows other members of the team to score against easier opposition. Toews' even-strength scoring is down year over year, but he remains one of the best against tough opposition.

    How Much Does He Play? Toews is one of the few forwards in the game who plays over 20 minutes a night, and the Blackhawks use him in all three disciplines. His effectiveness in a difficult role is a key element to Chicago's success. 

2. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players of his time. The Los Angeles Kings have enjoyed success with their big man in the middle for years now, and there is no sign of stopping.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Kopitar is a strong player every year, this season on a line with Marian Gaborik and Milan Lucic. The numbers are quality, but watching this line dominate possession is visually impressive. When this trio is on, there is little the opposition can do to stop it.

    How Much Does He Play? He is a workhorse center, leading the Kings in ice time. He also plays a substantial amount on the power play and penalty kill, meaning he has a major say in every game the Kings play. The addition of Lucic to his line appears to have made Kopitar even more formidable. 

1. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Why Is He Effective? Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins is the best two-way forward of his generation. His ability to shadow the other team's best—and outscore them—is a massive advantage for his team.

    What Do The Numbers Say? Bergeron continues to be a brilliant possession player, forming an effective line with Brad Marchand and Brett Connolly. With the Bruins adding several new—and young—elements to their roster this year, Bergeron's role has been even more prominent.

    How Much Does He Play? He leads the Bruins forwards in ice time and is a feature player in all three disciplines. He also plays the tough minutes and delivers the best results. Bergeron won the Frank J. Selke Trophy—awarded to the league's best defensive forward—in 2012, 2014 and 2015, and he should win it again this year.


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